One school is in a remote area and has 87 students, and the other is in an urban area and has about 1,300 students. But what Greenville High School and Bangor High School have in common is being named once again to Newsweek’s list of America’s best high schools. A total of four Maine high schools made the list.
As it has traditionally done for a number of years, Newsweek selects the best high schools in the country based on a school’s work in challenging students with Advanced Placement, college-level courses and tests, according to its website. Only about 1,600 schools made the list representing about 6 percent of all the public schools in the United States.
In the ranking, Greenville was at 865 and Bangor placed 1,466. The two other Maine schools included in the list were Cape Elizabeth at 718 and Yarmouth at 234. Many of those on Newsweek’s list were schools that specialized in gifted and talented, college preparatory, and honors programs, or were magnet and charter schools.
“It’s really, truly a reflection of the teaching staff, specifically how much they work to prepare students to be able to take those AP courses and be successful with them,” Heather Perry, outgoing superintendent of Union 60, in Greenville, said Tuesday. “That’s just a testament to the high school teaching staff.”
Betsy Webb, Bangor School Department superintendent, also credited her staff for the national recognition. “I believe it’s because we have a mission of academic excellence for all students in that we really push students to reach the highest academic level possible,” she said Tuesday. “We feel it’s extremely important to have AP and honors classes in that it allows for acceleration of learning. There’s evidence that this type of rigorous course work will best prepare students for postsecondary learning.”
Webb said her department starts in the early grades pushing pupils to their zone of development. By the time they get to high school, the pupils have experienced that push forward.
Paul Butler, Bangor School Department director of gifted and talented and Title I, said the department offers 16 courses with 27 sections of AP courses. One marker of success for his department is that 85 percent of students who take AP courses also commit to the AP test in May. About 79 percent of the students who take the test score a grade of 3 or higher on a scale of 5.
In Greenville, about 50 of the 87 high school students took either AP psychology, AP economics, AP English, AP literature, or AP history, Perry said. “Not only do that high percentage of kids participate in the AP courses but we have over 85 percent of our students that get the 3 or better grade which is an extremely high percent,” she said. She noted that three of the four AP courses in Greenville are taught by Ron Pelletier, who was named this year as the local and state American Legion Post educator of the year.
Butler said teachers make the commitment to be certified to teach the AP courses. “I think our teachers view it as both an honor and a challenge to teach the highest level of content in an area,” he said. His school also had a teacher recognized in the AP program. Cary James received a national Siemens Foundation Award for top achievement in AP, he said.
In addition to that recognition, Webb said a number of Bangor High School teachers have had their syllabi used as models throughout the country for AP courses. “We’re very fortunate to have excellent teachers here in Bangor as I’m sure Greenville has excellent teachers, but what I love seeing is their passion at helping students perform at high levels,” she said. “When students are earning 3’s, 4’s and 5’s, they potentially are earning college credit and we have some students that when they go to the University of Maine, they’re entering as a sophomore because they’ve already been able to demonstrate successful competition of freshman course work.”
It is that success that caught the attention of Newsweek.
“I think the recognition is wonderful because it honors the teachers and the staff that work so hard to offer excellent opportunities, it honors the students and the parents and our community for supporting such a diverse offering of AP programs,” Webb said, especially when resources are tight.